First attempt at dovetails

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Project by WoodSimplyMade posted 03-23-2011 02:09 AM 5072 views 6 times favorited 54 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My first ever attempt at hand cut dovetails. I no where near expected them to be perfect for the first time but not this bad???

How has everyone else first attempts turned out in comparison?

I also have pictured the saw I bought today from Lowes. Not sure if the type of saw I bought has anything to do with it or not.

Any tips and suggestions please??

-- Mike, Florida,

54 comments so far

View Dusty56's profile


11856 posts in 4330 days

#1 posted 03-23-2011 02:22 AM

No one online has a large picture of your saw , but I believe the handle looks offset in the pictures that I’ve seen so far.
Might have something to do with it.
Was it hard to stay inside of your lines with the saw ?
Keep on practicing and soon the Shakers will become jealous !

I have to give you credit for posting this : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View abie's profile


905 posts in 4413 days

#2 posted 03-23-2011 02:23 AM

Yes. Go to the web and look up hand cutting dovetails.
I did and found a plethora of sites for help..
Practice is also important I know since mine are not perfect yet.
If you can find a woodshop group or school then take a class.
Keep it up they will get better.

-- Bruce. a mind is like a book it is only useful when open.

View Paul Pomerleau's profile

Paul Pomerleau

309 posts in 3335 days

#3 posted 03-23-2011 02:32 AM

Dove tails scare me… I haven’t even attempted to make dove tails with a power tool let alone by hand.
I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Good for you for trying. I know mine would not be half as good as yours.

-- Close to Ottawa Ontario Canada

View WoodSimplyMade's profile


188 posts in 3962 days

#4 posted 03-23-2011 02:34 AM

Dusty, get the cut started with the offset handle was difficult but once the kerf was made it stayed pretty well on the line.

I need to watch more how-to’s and videos. I would very much like to add dovetails to my abilities.

-- Mike, Florida,

View RLindberry's profile


54 posts in 3308 days

#5 posted 03-23-2011 02:34 AM

My first attempt looked much like yours. My latest dovetails are in my most recent project:

so obviously, I’ve gotten better. This is probably my 20th attempt. There are a few things to help you get better.

1. Make sure you get a good dovetail saw. Lee Valley/Veritas makes one that is very good and reasonably priced. I have both the standard and fine tooth saws, and my dovetails improved instantly when switching from my old Crown gent’s saw to the LV dovetail saw. You also need to practice sawing, to make sure you can saw to a line, and do so straight and consistently.

2. Make your marks with a knife. It is far more accurate than a pencil

3. Watch how the pros do them. I’ve not gotten any DVD’s to watch, but simply watching Rob Cosman in his videos has taught me a lot (though I don’t do mine in 3.5 minutes). In fact, I find that chiseling out the waste is easier for me on the bench, than while still in the vise, like he does.

4. Keep practicing. Generally speaking, every attempt has gotten better for me.

Just my two cents.

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3802 days

#6 posted 03-23-2011 02:35 AM

Many of ours started out that way. As you learn better techniques and get more practice, yours will improve. I too commend you for posting. I started with Cosman’s technique too. He has a great DVD.

I’m not a fan of round handled saws, but some like them. You’ll want a rip saw, not a crosscut. I’m guessing your saw has a lot of set in the teeth. For DTs, you’ll want little or no set. I’d venture to say this would be a good first change to make, getting a different saw. And when I say different, that doesn’t necessarilly mean more expensive.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View WoodSimplyMade's profile


188 posts in 3962 days

#7 posted 03-23-2011 02:35 AM

They have intimidated me as well for quite a while. Finally gather the nerve to try and with poor success. Hope its turns out like everything else Ive tried and overcome.

-- Mike, Florida,

View WoodSimplyMade's profile


188 posts in 3962 days

#8 posted 03-23-2011 02:41 AM

Thanks for the tips and great links. I will be studying and practicing lots more. Hopefully i can post projects in the coming months with dovetails that look like yours.

Not sure what you mean by set in the teeth. The seemed to produce a fat kerf that didn’t allow me to maintain a clean straight cut. I will definitely look into getting the right type of saw, thanks for the info!!

-- Mike, Florida,

View RLindberry's profile


54 posts in 3308 days

#9 posted 03-23-2011 02:43 AM

Your saw appears to be the FatMax reversible flush cut saw. That is probably not a good dovetail saw for two reasons. One, it has more set on one side of the blade than the other, which will make it hard to saw straight. Two, it is probably filed crosscut rather than rip, which makes it tough for dovetails. You want something filed rip.

P.S the “set” is how much wider the teeth are than the saw plate. More set leaves a wider kerf which makes cutting easier, but more sloppy. Less set, has the opposite effect, but is necessary for tight dovetails.

View ugoboy's profile


120 posts in 3676 days

#10 posted 03-23-2011 02:52 AM

Well you have the concept down! I took a 1 day class on cutting hand cut Dovetails from Frank Strazza
Frank was an awesome teacher and explain the concept, showed the use of the tools, how to sharpen your tools and lay out the project. Something Frank said that just rings true. A baby learns to crawl before they can stand, walk and run. You must first learn to cut straight lines. Seem easy enough. Get a piece of pine and put it in your vice with the end grain up. Start first by marking with a pencil line across the end grain and down the board about 1”. Make sure your pencil is very sharp. Make several lines approximately 3/16 of an inch apart. Second position your body so your are balanced in front of your work and begin to start cutting those lines. Learn to cut on the left side then then the right side just leaving the line. After you completely cut across the board cut the end off and start over. Practice this exercise until you are proficient at cutting straight lines. At first you will see this might seem a little difficult but after cutting 50-100 lines you will be able to cut straight lines without even using a pencil mark. You are teaching your muscle memory. When you start cutting go slowly and use ALL of your saw. After you feel you have perfected the straight line go back and layout your project and try again. What you will see is that your lines will be straighter and joints will fit tighter. Make sure you cut on the waste side of the line. DO NOT CUT THE LINE or you will get sloppy joints. Cutting dovetails takes a lot of practice and patience. Don’t hurry thru the exercise. Start using soft wood like pine. and move to hard wood once you have got the hand of it.

I hope this helps.

-- ~ Guy Woodward, Pflugerville Texas

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3802 days

#11 posted 03-23-2011 02:52 AM

I second RL’s comments. Another thing you might try is using Poplar rather than Pine. Pine is soooo soft, it makes it more difficult. Mahogany also works well if you have extra of that. Watch Rob’s 3 1/2 minute video linked above. You’ll miss a lot of what he is actually doing, but there’s still a lot that can be gleened from it. But most of all, don’t get discouraged, you will get there. Just keep asking specific questions.

Oh, and one more thing. It looks like this is a practice board for you. I suggest finish it out(glue it up). Then cut it off, put today’s date on it and throw it in a bag. Keep doing this. Then when you have 10-20 more done, lay them out cronologically and study your progress.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View SplashMaster's profile


239 posts in 3503 days

#12 posted 03-23-2011 03:01 AM

My first hand cut dovetails were much the same and there in my first project that I posted on here (a ceder chest). It was a great learning experience for me, like how sharp you saw and chisels are (mine were not sharp lol) but By the 4th corner of my chest I was doing much better so just keep it up and you can be great!

View jeepturner's profile


942 posts in 3434 days

#13 posted 03-23-2011 03:15 AM

Mike, I am no expert on hand cut dove tails. I have done them for several projects, like chests of drawers, boxes and cabinets, and although it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to do them it takes lots of time. I went through and looked at your prior projects and I think you will do fine at cutting dove tails. A good saw makes it easier and a better saw makes it easier yet. The other thing that helps is the chisel, and the most important thing about the chisel is the sharpness of the edge. The best caliber chisel in the world will not outperform a cheapo Stanley if it is not as sharp. Also make yourself a wood mallet for chopping, if you are using the one in the picture that looks like a rubber head.
I like to cut inside my scribe line and clean up the cut with a sharp chisel. Keep up the practice and don’t get discouraged. Even a less than perfect dovetail joint will outperform other types of joints.

-- Mel,

View sswoodworking's profile


17 posts in 3807 days

#14 posted 03-23-2011 03:27 AM

Dont worry its the saw i have cut a few dovetails with succes but i dident get their with that saw (yes I own that exact saw) te first saw tat I used ands had good luck with was a harbor freight saw i picked up for$8 The second saw i used with better success was The vaughn is a great saw and worth every penny I use it almost everyday in the shop. Keep up the good work, it will come in time.

View kcrandy's profile


285 posts in 4074 days

#15 posted 03-23-2011 03:31 AM

Lumberjocks rocks! This has been a great exchange of information. I was worried the website was getting too big for its britches, but a simple post of first dovetail attempts has unloaded a wealth of info. Thanks to Mike for getting it started.

-- Caulk and paint are a poor carpenter's best friends

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